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Fake news is big news

Chris Jones: Greene Publishing, Inc.

In the recent election, fake and misleading news stories were shared across every social media platform and some traditional news media. Unlike “news satire,” which is fiction intended to entertain, fake news is purposefully falsified information generated with the intent to deceive, confuse, or disrupt the normal exchange of information.

Fake news was so prominent in 2016 that Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website Politifact dubbed it the 2016 Lie of the Year. According to Politifact, their contest “takes stock of a misrepresentation that arguably beats all others in its impact or ridiculousness.”

Fake news sites and articles permeated the 2016 Presidential election as partisan articles were generated by various websites and then shared via social media sites such as Facebook.  Once read and re-shared online, the number of people viewing the fake or false news increases exponentially.  Attempting to fact check these fake stories appears to make matters worse, as search engine inquiries only cause the results to move further up the results list, giving them a false legitimacy. Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerburg stated in a Nov. 12 post that “99% of what people see on Facebook is authentic.” Adam Mosseri, Facebook's News Feed Vice President says that one of the tactics the social media giant plans to deploy is undermining the financial incentives present that drive individuals to release fake news.

The creators of fake news can be rewarded for their deception.  Automated advertising, which rewards individual sites based on the amount of online traffic they receive, pay the owners of websites, regardless of the content. This drives the fake news creators to post sensational headlines, politically inspired stories, and emotional pieces intending to produce traffic, or clicks.  Requiring clicks to increase traffic, and therefore driving monetary gain, has led to such sites being labeled “click-bait,” because unsuspecting readers are baited into clicking on the site's link. Buzzfeed, considered by some to be fake news, and called “garbage” by then President-elect Donald Trump, reported that in 2016 there was more online interest in fake news stories than real ones.

According to America Online's Kelsey Weekman, there are several approaches that citizens can take to avoid fake news articles.  The first step is to check the source against other sources.  If it is only reported on one site, and no other sites corroborate the story, it may very likely be untrue.  Secondly, you can use a fact checking website, but beware, they are not beyond reproach.  Always check the date on a suspicious article.  If the headline seems outrageous, read the article.  It may not match the misleading headline.

It goes without saying that you cannot believe everything you read on the internet.  However, in today's climate of incentivized deception, the general populace needs to be extra skeptical about what it accepts as truth.   

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